Although growing concerns have been expressed both from within the legal system and without about the unsuitability of a fault-based divorce system for 21st century living, the government has decided that it will not amend the existing legislation and sanction no-fault divorces. Lord Keen, the government’s Justice Minister and House of Lords spokesperson, told the chamber last week that the government had no plans to change the existing legislation, but added that the government was committed to improving the family justice system.
The written response was delivered by Lord Keen following a question tabled by Lord Pendry who had asked whether the government had any plans to review the fault-based divorce system. Lord Keen said the government was committed to making changes to the family justice system so that separating couples can ‘achieve the best possible outcomes for themselves and their families,’ adding:
‘Whilst we have no current plans to change the existing law on divorce, we are considering what further reforms to the family justice system may be needed.’
The news was not warmly welcomed by the family law sector of the legal profession. Concerns have been growing about the unsuitability of a fault-based divorce system, particularly in the light of the increasing number of couples who choose to cohabit rather than marry. Research conducted by family law group Resolution, found that 9 in 10 practitioners believed that divorce law needs to be modernised to allow for no-fault divorce, but any hopes that this change might be introduced were quashed by Lord Keen’s written statement
Felicity Chapman, an associate at Charles Russell Speechlys, told the Law Society Gazette that Lord Keen’s statement was a significant missed opportunity:
‘The government could have acted on the debate around fault-based divorce and drafted a change to the law – but has chosen not to do so,’ she said.
‘One has to wonder whether the decision of the government to not commit time to addressing this legal issue is a casualty of the current focus on Brexit, with little time to no time to address other important issues such as divorce and family law.’
The news comes hot on the heels of reports of the Tini Owens case, where the Court of Appeal was asked to overturn an earlier family court ruling which stated that Ms Owens could not divorce her husband. Family solicitor Tony Roe, principal of Reading firm Tony Roe Solicitors told the Law Society Gazette that that case ‘clearly demonstrates why no-fault divorce needs to be introduced’. In his opinion, the Ministry of Justice ‘considering’ what further reforms may be needed is simply ‘a brush-off to badly needed divorce and other reform’, he added. He also urged the government to legislate to protect and give rights to co-habiting unmarried couples as the Office for National Statistics figures show they were the fastest-growing type of family in the UK.